Cracking the top two

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Mark Koenig
  • 934th Airlift Wing command chief
If you've ever wondered the secret to cracking into the top two enlisted grades, you're not alone. Many have pondered this question without an accurate conclusion. The perceived "secret" doesn't appear one day in a vision or revelation. You won't find it in the AF Times or Citizen Airmen magazine.

Senior Master Sergeant and Chief Master Sergeant promotions don't happen because the promotee is lucky or the individual is closer to retirement than the next person in the shop. In fact there's no secret to these top two promotions at all. The key to cracking the top two enlisted grades is based on two areas under your daily control; career performance and results. The hard work, sacrifice and results achieved during your career are built over a long period of time. Cracking the top two enlisted ranks requires sustained dedication and commitment to learning, following, training and then leading people to safe, successful mission accomplishment.

To fully understand how high the bar is set at these two grades, we must appreciate how competitive the CMSgt and SMSgt promotion selection process really is. By public law, only three percent of the enlisted force can be in the grades of SMSgt and CMSgt. The number that can be promoted is small and competition for the limited positions is very tough. Not every deserving NCO will be promoted - many highly qualified personnel will not be selected.

So what does it take? The first step to cracking into top two enlisted grades is getting smart on the requirements for promotion early in your career. 934AWI 36-2502 titled, Enlisted Placement/Promotions (SMSGT/E-8 & CMSGT/E-9) details the current eligibility requirements for the top two grades.

Next, know what makes you a desirable candidate. Consider what I think are the seven most important factors to be competitive for promotion. I call them the seven diamonds. Every NCO should possess qualities in each diamond, but the career-consistent high performers who excel in each diamond area stand the best chance of promotion. Each hiring official will set the priority sequence and specific weight assigned to any one diamond.

Diamond 1. EPR's. All aspects are considered: Job descriptions, individual rating factors, periods of supervision, overall evaluations, endorsement levels, stratification levels and the narrative word picture. Your EPR must factually convey that you have demonstrated qualities of leadership and managerial proficiency to be effective at the top two grades.

Diamond 2. Professional Competence: Those selected for the top two NCO grades must be the best qualified people available. Period. It's vital they have experience in diversified leadership, managerial expertise, strategic vision and critical thinking skills. They must be prepared for the challenges the Air Force Reserve will face in the future.

Diamond 3. Leadership. Simply put, you must be able to effectively lead people. The AF Reserve has many hard working technicians, journeymen, supervisors and program managers representing many skills. Each one contributing to the success of greatest Air Force in the world. But here's the truth, not all are poised, capable or even interested to lead at the highest enlisted levels. Senior Master Sergeants and Chief Master Sergeants must lead. Proven leadership is a job requirement.

Diamond 4. Job Responsibility. There are many jobs at the squadron and group levels that demand just as much of an individual as jobs at higher command levels. Your performance will be reviewed based on what you've been asked to accomplish, how well your team performed, and whether the intended results were achieved. Are you in a position where there is responsibility for directing the work of others or are you only responsible for your own individual performance?

Diamond 5. Breadth of Experience. This diamond addresses your overall professional background, experience, and "life knowledge." You must have knowledge and practical experience in areas other than your AF specialty. Have you remained in one career field (silo career) or have you opened your career aperture and learned multiple talents and skills in varied career fields? What's your level of involvement and contribution in areas outside the Air Force Reserve? The top two enlisted grades may be called on to fill any leadership job at any time. Do you possess the skills to lead people in any endeavor?

Diamond 6. Specific Achievements. Often recognized in the form of awards, there are also many other significant accomplishments that should be addressed within the narrative comments of the EPRs. Such recognition can help distinguish the truly outstanding performer.

Diamond 7. Education: Senior NCO's who are considered for the top two enlisted grades will have a broad range of academic achievements. This fall, a Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) degree will be the minimum education expectation for E-8 and E-9 position qualification. Academic education is part of the whole-person assessment. The degree to which the education enhances the SRNCO's potential to serve in the next higher grade will be considered.

In addition to the seven diamonds, the final element you must possess to qualify for the top two enlisted grades is passion. I'm talking "fire-in-the-belly" passion to serve and lead others. Without it you can't be your best. Passionate leadership has no boundaries, no time clock or calendar. Your passion to lead and serve others must be all the time, each day, every day.

The secret to cracking the top two enlisted grades is already in your grasp. The performance you demonstrate the results you achieve with the passion you possess each day defines who you are. These seven diamond areas will be your performance indicators. Are you prepared to crack into the top two?